Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Stone from the Stars

Wolfram von Eschenbach

"Parsifal entered the fortress and was welcomed by a page. When he had washed himself and changed his clothes, he was led into a great hall. A fire was burning, and a hundred tables were set up, each for four knights. Parsifal encountered the old, sickly lord of the castle, wrapped in furs despite the heat, and was invited to take place beside him. At that moment, a strange scene unfolded.
"Next, something extraordinary happened. A pageboy leapt in through the door carrying a lance - an act which evoked a scream of agony. Its sheath was dripping blood, which ran down the shaft to the boy’s hand, finally oozing into his sleeve. A great moaning and screaming arose in the broad hall. The population of thirty countries could not have screamed louder than those knights.
"He carried the lance in his hands right round the four walls, back to the door, and then went out again. The howling ended.
"A remarkable procession then entered: young girls, marching in pairs with candles, ivory stools, a platter made of precious stones, and silver knives. And finally came the queen herself:
"A glow came from her countenance, like the break of day. The Lady was clothed in Pfellel of Arabia. On a green Achmardi she bore the fruits of paradise, roots too, and rice. It was the thing that was called the Grail, overflowing with all that man could desire. She who was worthy to carry the Grail was called Repanse de Schoye [spreading of joy]. The Grail could only be entrusted to pure hands; they who would have care of the Grail, they must be without guile."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

The poem Parzival "was composed between 1200 and 1210...The poet was a Bavarian knight, well known in his day for his lyrics and his redaction of a chanson de geste about Guillaume d'Orange, Wilehalm. He professed himself unable to read, and his acquaintance with the French language was surely defective, but a man who invented anagrams and quoted Latin with understanding, even if only tow words, was certainly no illiterate."
- Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

"Rather, he took an almost childish pleasure in foreign-sounding names, especially oriental ones, which he preferred to use in his work. He enjoyed using and playing with them, when dealing with people, countries, races, and magical devices, giving them extraordinary-sounding names. He knew German literature very well, particularly anything to do with heroic tales and legends."

"Wolfram von Eschenbach became a legendary figure even in his own middle age. He was seen to be one of the founders of the mastersingers, was acclaimed as a poet who had taken part in a singing contest at Wartburg castle, and it was believed that he had been knighted by one of the Counts von Henneberg at Massfeld near Meiningen."
- Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon

"...Wolfram concludes his poem with the statement that, Chrétien de Troys having told the tale amiss, he has chosen to follow Kyot the Provençal....In Toledo, Kyot chanced on a book in heathen characters, written by a Saracen named Flegetanis, who had read about the Grail in the stars!"
- Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

"There was a heathen named Flegetanis who was highly renowned for his acquirements. This same physicus was descended from Solomon, begotten of Isrealitish kin all the way down from ancient times...He wrote of the marvels of the Grail. Flegetanis, who worshipped a calf as though it were his god, was a heathen by his father....With his own eyes the heathen Flegetanis saw - and he spoke of it reverentially - hidden secrets in the constellations. He declared there was a thing called the Grail, whose name he read in the stars without more ad[?]. 'A troop [of Angels] left it on earth and then rose high above the stars, as if their innocence drew them back again'."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

According to Thomas Rochford, his Medieval Latin Word list gives a similar word to Flegetanis - Phlegethon - as an adjective used of someone who is condemned to everlasting fire.

"This imperfect record Kyot had supplemented by research in French and Latin tomes and in the chronicles of Ireland, Britain, and Anjou. The composite work, we are asked to believe, was Wolfram's source."
- Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

There are other indications that Wolfram's Parzival was middle-eastern and therefore probably Persian in origin.

"1) Belacane (Gahmuret's mistress) literally means 'over the top' in Persian and would probably be applied to a princess who fell in love with an infidel.
2) Although Feirefiz is not a Persian name as such it is close to other Persian names, e.g. Firouz, which is a common name meaning 'Victor'.
3) Seen in this light a possible derivation of Parsifal's name from 'Parsifal' (Persian Fate), seems simpler than any of the other attempts to explain it, e.g. 'fol parfait', (the perfect fool) or 'Perles Vaux' (the pearl of the valleys)."
- Thomas Rochford (private correspondence)

"...There are certain strongly marked points in which Wolfram's account of the Grail, and of all connected with it, coincided with that of later French version impossible for him to have known. The two most significant are the idea of an organized community, the center of whose life is the Grail (the Axum clergy), and the idea of a hereditary line of guardians (the Solomonic kings of Ethiopia). Both are absent from Chrétien's story. But Wolfram's order is an order of knighthood, the Templiesen, modeled on that of the Knights Templar..."
- Noel Currer-Briggs, Shroud Mafia - The Creation of a Relic? (1995)

"It is well known to me that many formidable fighting men dwell at Munsalvaeshe [the Grail Castle] with the Grail. They are continually riding out on sorties in quest of adventure. Whether these same Templeisen [Wolfram uses the term derived from Tempelritter, whose generic meaning indicates a member of any military order of monks, and not exclusively the Templars] reap trouble or renown, they bear it for their sins. A warlike company lives there."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

Wolfram "evidently thought of the guardians as forming an order like that of the Knights Templars, dedicated to the defenses of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. The Grail knights, like the Templars, were vowed to celibacy, while the Grail Kings, like the Kings of Jerusalem, were not."
- Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

"The Templars have many obvious similarities with the Grail Knights described by the romanciers. They were a religious order of warrior, who dressed in white mantles blazoned with a red cross. They called their initiates from select families and seemed to have some sort of ritualized initiation. They swore total allegiance to their Grand-Master, as the Grail Knights did to the Fisher King. Wolfram, of course, even calls them Templars by name, but there are deeper similarities. In Perlesvaus, Perceval comes upon a wooden cross in a forest. When he bends to kiss it, he is pushed aside by some Grail Knights who proceed to spit on and defame the cross. This sort of activity is precisely what the Templars were accused of in their persecution. In both Perlesvaus and Parzival, there are allusions to infanticide and homosexuality, two other supposed crimes of the Templars. "
- J.J. Collins, "Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail"

"I will tell you how they are fed: they live from a stone whose Essence is pure...It is called lapis exilis [small, or paltry, stone]. By virtue of this stone the Phoenix is burned to ashes, in which she is reborn. Thus does the Phoenix molt her feathers, after which she shines dazzling and bright, and as lovely as before. However ill a mortal man may be, from the day on which he sees the Stone, he cannot die for that week, nor does he lose his color. For if anyone, maid or man, were to look at the Grail for two hundred years, you would have to admit that his color was as fresh as in his early prime...Such powers does the Stone confer on mortal men that their flesh and bones are soon made young again. This stone is also called the Grail."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

One possibility for the origin of lapis exilis "is regarded by many researchers as the most probably correct one. This is the derivation of lapsit exillis from lapis ex coelis or lapis de coelis, both of which mean: the stone from the heavens. Bodo Mergell even suggests that lapsit exillis might be a contraction of lapis lapsus ex illis stellis, which translates as: 'the stone which came down from the stars'. Bodo Mergell even suggests that lapsit exillis might be a contraction of lapis lapsus ex illis stellis, which translates as: 'the stone which came down from the stars'."

"An interpretation of the grail as a simple meteorite is alluringly simple, but unfortunately it does not explain how this heavenly stone should be able to provide food, and why it was, as described by Chrétien, decorated with jewels, made of gold, and emitted a bright light. Furthermore, to the people of the middle ages, the idea that stones could fall from heaven to earth was totally alien.
"The same difficulty arises if one takes the grail to be the mythical jewel which fell to earth from the rebelious Lucifer’s crown - according to legend - during his battle with the angels of God. This interpretation first appears in a mediaeval version of the Wartburg War, strophe 143:"
- Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon

"Shall I then bring the crown,
that was made by 60,000 angels?
Who wished to force God out of the Kingdom of Heaven.
See! Lucifer, there he is!
If there are still master-priests,
Then you know well that I am singing the truth.
Saint Michael saw God’s anger, plagued by this insolence.
He took (Lucifer’s) crown from his head,
In such a way that a stone jumped out of it,
Which on earth became Parsifal’s stone.
The stone which sprang out of it,
he found it, he who had struggled for honour at such high cost."
- Wartburg War, strophe 143

"Another suggestion is one made by Bodo Mergell (1952), which is that when describing the grail, Wolfram may have had an altar-stone in mind. Mergell writes: 'Relatively small altar-stones (altare portatile) without any wood or metal casing had already appeared in the 12th century. A small stone such as this could be therefore taken for an altar-stone. This is supported by the evidence that the altare portatile or viaticum is described in an 11th century list of donations from Freising as a ëlapisi'.
"Regarding the grail as an altar-stone has caused some analysts to think of it as a kind of portable altar, or even an altar-slab, which again is then linked with the stone used to close Christ's grave, and which according to oriental legend was the same stone that the Children of Israel took with them through the desert and which gave them water (Emma Jung, 1960)."
- Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon

"...The Grail castle recalls the pagan otherworld, where there is no aging and no disease, and where the immortals feast on whatever they like best. But the Grail is now a stone which resembles the Philosopher's Stone of the alchemists. It too surpassed all earthly perfection, cured disease, and kept its possessor forever young."
- Richard Cavendish, "Grail",
Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9

"This miraculous immunity from physical decay...was ascribed to the followers of Brân the Blessed as they spent eighty years on the island of Grassholm, and has been carried down into the Arthurian romances and applied to those who formed the household of the Fisher King."
Wolfram's "originality and genius also appear in his statement that the stone owed its powers to a mass-wafer deposited on it every Good Friday by a dove descending from heaven. This, we may well believe, is a deliberate alteration of Chrétien's concept of the Grail as a receptacle for the Host - a concept first set forth by the hermit on Good Friday. It also embodies a eucharistic doctrine which can be traced back to the fourth century, namely that it is the Third Member of the Trinity [the Holy Spirit] who descends on the bread and wine at the celebration of the mass and changes them into the body and blood of the Second Member [the Son]."
- Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

"Interestingly, there is a Eucharist Legend dating from the 11th century which shows great similarity with the accounts of Anfortas [confined to sitting in a chair in the Grail castle] and his daily feeding with the Host: a man was trapped in a cave near Clavennas. After a prolonged search, all attempts to rescue him were abandoned. It was not until a year later that another attempt was made, to look for his bones, and the man was found alive. He told his astonished friends that every day, a dove-like bird had brought him a small offering of white bread, which had refreshed and strengthened him through its delicious taste. The bird had missed only one day, and on that occasion he had suffered dreadfully from hunger. In fact, his wife, believing him dead, had a Mass said for him every day. Only once was she unable to go to church, due to the winter cold, and that was the very day that the prisoner had gone hungry.
"It is not difficult to imagine that legends like these might have inspired Wolfram to write of the white dove that brought a Host to the grail every Good Friday."
- Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon

"'The noble and worthy angels who took neither side when Lucifer warred with the Trinity were sent down to earth as custodians of this stone, which is forever pure. I know not whether God forgave them or destroyed them; if His justice so ordained, He recalled them to Himself. Since that time, those whom He has called and to whom He sent His angel guard the stone. Sir, such is the nature of the Grail."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

"That was the object called the Grail. It was beyond all earthly joy, and such that its bearer was required to preserve her purity, cultivate virtue, and spurn falsity."
"Taken together with the general atmosphere of wonder, mystery, quest, and initiation that pervades the Grail tradition, these two lines would therefore seem to indicate a relationship of some kind between the enigmatic symbols displayed in the Castle of the Grail and the rites of the late classical mystery sects. In these latter...the earlier field-cult symbols of vegetal fertility were turned to the ends of inward spiritual fructification, wakening, and rebirth."
- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

"...Whatever one reached one's hand to take, it was found there before the Grail: food warm and cold, foods new and old, both cultivated and wild...For the Grail was beatitude's own fruit and provided such abundance of the world's sweetness that its delights were very like what we are told of the kingdom of heaven...And for whatever drink one held one's cup, that was the drink that flowed by the power of the Grail - white wine, mulberry, or red."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

"In a brilliant book, From Ritual to Romance (1920) which was influenced by Frazer's Golden Bough and which in turn influenced T. S. Eliot's poem 'The Waste Land', Jessie L. Weston argued that the central themes of the Grail legends were connected with pagan fertility ritual, the restoration to vigorous life of the dying god of vegetation; that the Fisher King was so named because the fish is a symbol of swarming life; and that beneath the surface of the legends can be discerned the rites and symbols of a secret cult, which had transmuted primitive fertility ritual into an 'initiation into the secret of Life, physical and spiritual'."
"The more determinedly Christian the intentions of the author, the more the Waste Land theme is thrust into the background, presumably because of it obvious pagan connotations."
- Richard Cavendish, "Grail",
Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9

"...The symbols of the Bleeding Lance borne by a squire and the Grail carried by a maiden must have been originally sexual emblems in some classical mystery rite." A Greek vase painting of a Dionysian scene from the mid-5th century B.C. "attests to the antiquity of such symbols in the context of initiation rites. The flaming staff and empty pitcher in the hands of the young girl are matched by the sprouting thyrus, running with living sap, and the proffered wine cup of the god."
"The Castle of the Grail, like the bowl of a baptismal font for the sanctuary of the winged serpent, is the place - the vas the temenos - of regeneration..."
- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

"My prayers and entreaties will I now send forth heart and hands aloft to Helicon, to that ninefold throne whence the fountains spring from which the gift of words and meaning flow. Its host and its nine hostesses are Apollo and the Camenae....And could I obtain of it but a single drop, my words would be dipped in the glowing crucible of Camenian inspiration, to be there transmuted into something strangely wonderful, make to order, like Arabian gold."
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

Warrior Cults and Grail Motifs

"...The theme of the Waste Land preserves the ancient belief that the fertility of the land depended on the life, vigor and sexual potency of the ruler. In Chrétien the Fisher King is wounded in both thighs, which is thought to be a euphemism for the genitals. In Wolfram's Parzival: there is no euphemism: the Maimed King was pierced through the testicles by a poisoned spear."
"In the Suite du Merlin, of c. 1230, it is the lance of the Grail castle which deals what Malory later called 'the dolorous stroke'. The hero Balaain (Balin in Malroy) came to the castle of King Pellehan. Attacked by the king and searching hurriedly for a weapon with which to defend himself, he found a lance standing point downwards in a vessel of silver and gold. He snatched up the lance and drove it through Pellehan's thighs. Instantly the walls of the castle collapsed. Outside, Balaain found that the trees had fallen, the crops were destroyed and the inhabitants were all dead. From that time on the land came to be called the Waste Land."
- Richard Cavendish, "Grail","
Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9

"...In the early Germanic organization of male relationships that Tacitus called the comitatus (and which might better be labeled the Mannerbund [Joseph Harris]), manliness was measured in terms of proper domination and submission along an axis of ascending social power.
"Tacitus writes that men 'cluster' around stronger men for protection in an unsteady world of challenge and aggression: 'This retinue has its different ranks, established in accordance with the judgment of its leader. There is great rivalry among the followers as to who shall hold the first place with the chief. There is great rivalry as well among the chiefs as to who will have the largest and most valorous band of followers.'"
- Joseph Harris "Love and Death in the Mannerbund" in Heroic Poetry in the Anglo-Saxon Period (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1993).

Regarding Wolfram's Parzival:
"In the rules for admission into the company lead by Arthur, we can decipher certain ordeals for entrance into a secret society of the Männerbund type."
"In the Grail castle, Percival has to spend the night in a chapel in which lies a dead knight; thunder rolls, and he sees a black hand extinguishing the only lighted candle. This is the very type of the initiatory night watch. The ordeals that the Heroes undergo are innumerable - they have to cross a bridge that sinks under water or is made of a sharp sward or is guarded by lions and monsters. In addition, the gates to castles are guarded by animated automatons, fairies, or demons. All these scenarios suggest passage to the beyond, the perilous descents to hell; and when such journeys are undertaken by living beings, they always form part of an initiation. By assuming the risks of such a descent to Hell, the Hero pursues the conquest of immortality or some other equally extraordinary end. The countless ordeals undergone by the personages of the Arthurian cycle fall in the same category; at the end of their quest, the Heroes cure the king's mysterious malady and thereby regenerate the 'Waste Land', or even themselves attain sovereignty."
- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

"...The behavior of the Indo-European warrior bands offers certain points of resemblance to the secret fraternities of primitive societies. In both alike, the members of the group terrorize women and noninitiates and in some sort exercise a 'right of rapine', a custom which, in diluted form, is still found in the popular traditions of Europe and the Caucuses. Rapine, and cattle stealing, assimilate the members of the warrior band to carnivora. In the Germanic Wütende Heer, or in similar ritual organizations, the barking of dogs (equals wolves) forms part of an indescribable uproar into which all sorts of strange sounds enter, for example, bells and trumpets. These sound play an important ritual role; they help prepare for the frenzied ecstasy of the members of the group....In the Germanic or Japanese men's secret societies the strange sounds, like the masks, attest the presence of the Ancestors, the return of the souls of the dead. The fundamental experience is provoked by the initiates' meeting with the dead, who return to earth more especially about the winter solstice. Winter is also the season when the initiates change into wolves. In other words, during the winter the members of the band are able to transmute their profane conditions and attain to a superhuman existence, whether by consorting with the Ancestors or by appropriating the behavior, that is the magic, of the carnivora."
- Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation

"Another word for the frenzy associated with combat is furor. It has been reported both in legends and in historical accounts that in the heat of battle certain warriors enter into a delirious fury, attacking anyone in their reach. For example....Cu Chulainn, the hero of the Ulster legend, while still a boy vanquished the three sons of Nechta, the enemy of his people, and returned to his home still in a frenzy. He was seized and thrown into a vat of cold water to cool him down. The frenzy of the warriors associated with Odin thus expresses the power of ecstasy in battle."
- An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism

"They went without shields, and were mad as dogs or wolves, and bit on their shields, and were as strong as bears or bulls; men they slew, and neither fire nor steel would deal with them; and this is what is called the fury of the berserker."
- Ynglingasaga

"This mythical picture has been rightly identified as a description of real men's societies the famous Männerbund of the ancient Germanic civilization. The berserkers were, literally, the 'warriors in shirts (serkr) of bear'. This is as much as to way hat they were magically identified with the bear. In addition they could sometimes change themselves into wolves and bears. A man became a berserker as the result of an initiation that included specifically martial ordeals. So, for example, Tacitus tells us that among the Chati the candidate cut neither his hair nor is beard until he head killed an enemy. Among the Taifali, the youth had to bring down a boar or a wolf; among the Heruli, he had to flight unarmed. Through these ordeals, the candidate took to himself a wild-animal mode of being; he became a dreaded warrior in the measure in which he behaved like a beast of prey. He metamorphosed himself into a superman because he succeeded in assimilating the magic or religious force proper to the carnivora."

"A youth did not become a berserker simply through courage, physical strength, endurance, but as the result of a magico-religious experience that radically changed his mode of being. The young warrior must transmute his humanity by a fit of aggressive and terror-striking fury, which assimilated him to the raging heat of prey. He became 'heated' to an extreme degree, flooded by a mysterious, nonhuman, and irresistible force that his fighting effort and vigor summoned from the utmost depths of his being. The ancient Germans called this sacred force wut, a term that Adam von Bremen translated by furor; it was a sort of demonic frenzy, which filled the warrior's adversary with terror and finally paralyzed him. The Irish ferg (literally 'anger'), the Homeric menos, are almost exact equivalents of this same terrifying sacred experience peculiar to heroic combats."
"The 'wrath' and the heat induced by a violent and excessive access of sacred power are feared by the majority of mankind. The term shanti, which in Sanskrit designates tranquillity, peace of soul, freedom from the passions, relief from suffering, derives from the root sham, which originally had the meaning of extinguishing the fire, the anger, the fever, in short the heat, provided by demonic powers."
- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

During the Middle ages "we witness, if not the total disappearance of initiation, at least their almost final eclipse. All the more interesting, then, I think, is the presence of a considerable number of initiatory motifs in the literature that, from the twelfth century, grew up around the 'Matiere de Betagne', especially in the romance giving a leading role to Arthur, the Fisher King, Percival, and other Heroes pursuing the Grail quest."
- Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation

"In Wolfram's Parzival, the boon [won by the hero] is the inauguration of a new age of the human spirit: of secular spirituality, sustained by self-responsible individuals acting not in terms of general laws supposed to represent the will or way of some personal god or impersonal eternity, but each in terms of his own developing realization of worth. Such an idea is distinctly - and uniquely - European."
- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology


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